Pablo Machin has made a perfect start to his La Liga career. His 3-5-2 philosophy led Girona to a promotion and an 8th position finish three points behind his current side Sevilla. A fantastic start to the season has left Sevilla 4th behind the big three. But after losing their last three away games coming into the yellow submarine, their top three challenge has buffered. However, a trip to the Ceramica could have been the perfect game to change this with Villarreal failing to win at home in the league since November. But with the sacking of Luis Garcia could the return of Javier Calleja chance the fortunes of the Spanish side? Our tactical analysis will look at Villarreal under Calleja and why Machin’s system is beginning to back-fire.
Both sides matched each other in a 3-5-2, however, Machin chose two more attacking wing-backs in Jesus Navas and Quincy Promes compared to Villarreal’s Mario Gaspar and Alfonso Pedraza. There was no start for Wissam Ben Yedder but former Barcelona striker Munir started for Sevilla with Andre Silva. Villarreal started Bacca and Ekambi up top, with Sergio Asenjo in goal.
How did Villarreal set up?
Villarreal set up quite compact when Sevilla had possession in their own half, this decreased the number of options available for Sevilla to play and often looked to play the long ball. They struggled to break down the Villarreal defence leading to them not having many chances on goal.
However, when Villarreal won the ball back, they were quite direct, despite keeping possession of the ball. They did this by making the pitch wide but having narrow players in the central area. In the below image you can see the Villarreal back three. What is important about this is their positions, they are both high and wide. This firstly pins back the Sevilla defenders but also gives them passing options in a smaller play space. You can see wing-back Mario Gaspar far right, creating space in the centre for the Villarreal attacking players.
Looking at the beneath pass sonar for Villarreal, you can see that many of the players made more and longer passes forward. This shows how direct Villarreal whereas they always looked forward when they won possession back.
Another advantage of Calleja’s decision to push so high up the pitch when in possession, is that when they lost the ball it was a lot easier to press Sevilla. This was because Villarreal had reduced the space that Sevilla could play in, increasing Sevilla’s difficulty to complete short passes leading to many long balls. Also, it decreased the time that the Sevilla players had on the ball. In the below example, Villarreal’s front two men press the goalkeeper which resulted in Valcik miss hitting the ball.
How did a failure in Machin’s system help Calleja to his first win?
Calleja has certainly influenced the Villarreal performance, but there were problems with the Sevilla structure which was easily exploited by Villarreal. Firstly, was the aggression of Machin’s back three, which was lacking. Machin likes his back three to be narrow and compact, but this comes at a cost when a Villarreal player has broken the midfield line. In the below example, you can notice two failure’s in Machin’s system. Firstly, the gap between the midfield and defensive line of Sevilla, but also when Villarreal enter the Sevilla final third, there was a lack of pressing on the ball. In this scenario, Pedraza has a shot on goal, which is saved by Asenjo, but this was allowed by the space in front of him.
Sevilla was not aggressive enough in open play, but it was the same scenario for set pieces and for Alvaro Gonzalez’s opener. For the goal, it was really poor defending by Wober. Firstly, he does well to keep an eye of Gonzalez, but he does not touch tight to him and he does not have an eye on the ball. So, when the corner is taken Wober turns his body to look at the ball with his body facing away from Gonzalez. Gonzalez is clever and notices this, so when Wober takes his attention of him he changes the path of his running leading to a free header.
Regarding the back three, despite their compactness, they were not very organised which made them easy to play through and this happened for Ekambi’s goal just before half time to make the score 2-0.
In this example, you can see the Villarreal back three splits into two units, which Carles Bacca takes full advantage. The right side of the Sevilla back three press forward, but Simon Kjaer, who is marking Ekambi, stays back playing Bacca onside. In this Scenario, one of the three Sevilla players who are further up should have dropped back and marked Bacca. However, Bacca is played in so Kjaer must go and close Bacca to prevent him from Scoring. The problem with this is this then leaves Ekambi free in space, and Bacca uses a clever bit of skill to give Ekambi an open goal to double the Villarreal lead.
Last week I wrote an article on Spurs’ 3-0 win against Dortmund and I mentioned that the runs that Hakimi made left Zone 16 free for Vertonghen to expose. The same pattern could be seen in this match which ultimately led to Villarreal’s third goal. In the team news, we mentioned how attacking the Sevilla’s wing-back’s where and this would ultimately leave Sevilla exposed themselves in Zone 16.
In the above image, we see the space that should be covered by Navas, as the wing-back, and where his actual position was. This is a gap that Villarreal went on to expose with Iborra nearly finding Ekambi with a pass across the box. Not only was he too high up the pitch, but he was also too wide as well. Below you can see the space between Navas and the centre-backs which could have allowed Bacca to make a run inside. The position of Navas was a constant trend in the first half, so it was no shock when Machin substituted the Spaniard at half time.
But even when Navas was substituted, Pedraza found the space going into Zone 16 behind the Sevilla back three and after a great run he made the score 3-0
So, it has been a great start for Calleja, after beating Sporting Lisbon away from home in the Europa League he now has his first La Liga win, leaving them just one point from safety. They face a tough test next against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano but a decent run of games after that could give Calleja momentum. However, for Machin, this is now his 4th defeat in the row away from home. A season which looked like they will challenge the big three is now a top-four battle with Getafe and Alaves hot on their heels. They also host the leaders Barcelona in their next game.